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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Absence of p53 in Clara cells favours multinucleation and loss of cell cycle arrest

Christopher J Armit1*, Shirley O'Dea2, Alan R Clarke3 and David J Harrison1

Author Affiliations

1 CRC Laboratories, Department of Pathology, University of Edinburgh, Teviot Place, Edinburgh EH8 9AG, UK

2 Present address; Mucosal Immunology Laboratory, Biology Department, N.U.I. Maynooth, Co.Kildare, Republic of Ireland

3 Present address; Cardiff University, School of Biosciences, Cardiff CF10 3US, UK

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BMC Cell Biology 2002, 3:27  doi:10.1186/1471-2121-3-27

Published: 21 November 2002



The p53 oncosuppressor protein is a critical mediator of the response to injury in mammalian cells and is mutationally inactivated in the majority of lung malignancies. In this analysis, the effects of p53-deficiency were investigated in short-term primary cultures of murine bronchiolar Clara cells. Clara cells, isolated from gene-targeted p53-deficient mice, were compared to cells derived from wild type littermates.


p53 null cultures displayed abnormal morphology; specifically, a high incidence of multinucleation, which increased with time in culture. Multinucleated cells were proficient in S phase DNA synthesis, as determined by BrdU incorporation. However, multinucleation did not reflect altered rates of S phase synthesis, which were similar between wild type and p53-/- cultures. Nucleation defects in p53-/- Clara cells associated with increased centrosome number, as determined by confocal microscopy of pericentrin-stained cultures, and may highlight a novel role of p53 in preserving genomic integrity in lung epithelial cells. Effects of p53-deficiency were also studied following exposure to DNA damage. A p53-dependent reduction in the BrdU index was observed in Clara cells following ionizing radiation. The reduction in BrdU index in wild type cells displayed serum-dependency, and occurred only in the absence of serum. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that in murine primary Clara cell culture, cell cycle arrest is a p53-mediated response to DNA damage, and that extracellular factors, such as serum, influence this response.


These findings highlight functions of wild type p53 protein in bipolar spindle formation, centrosome regulation, and growth control in bronchiolar Clara cells.